What a day and what a night! And what a vote! A turnout of 86%!
Politicians, the press, pollsters and pundits will be dissecting and spinning this verdict for weeks to come. But I am hoping it will change attitudes in Westminster forever.
Has there ever been a bigger turnout for a non-compulsory democratic election anywhere in the world? It’s simply incredible and heart-warming. The depth of political engagement in recent weeks has been greater than anything seen in our island’s history. The “Yes” campaign may have failed but it has succeeded in demonstrating people can still be engaged in democracy in our cynical age.
For the first time, we also allowed 16 and 17 year-olds to vote. And they turned out too. We should allow them to vote in all elections from now on. If we engage young people in politics earlier, we might keep them engaged. Who knows, we might even get better politics.
I type this as Alex Salmond concedes defeat, with just one result to declare. He is emphasising that more than one and a half million people voted “Yes”. That is a clear mandate for further devolution of power to Scotland. He’s going to insist those powers are delivered and are delivered quickly.
We shouldn’t stop there. In recent decades, Westminster has become isolated from the rest of Britain. It lives and thinks differently from the rest of Britain. London booms while much of the rest of the country struggles. The Westminster bubble needs to be burst and maybe, just maybe, that is what happened last night.
We are not helped by our media. The media – the BBC, the English-biased press – seemed to have no understanding of the swell of opinion in Scotland. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, for example, had pages of vitriolic attacks on the “Yes” campaign. It’s sad that this once great newspaper is going the way of the Daily Mail by attacking the views of nearly half the people of Scotland. But like so much of our media, it lives and breathes London life. It thinks that the rest of the country is like London and the South East, or wants to be like it. We are not like London and the South East and don’t wish to be.
Nick Clegg is already talking about devolving more powers to cities. We should not stop at cities. We should devolve responsibilities and powers from Westminster to local authorities, using the principle that if something can be decided locally, it should be decided locally.
The grimgribbers and naysayers will argue that yet more constitutional change should not be done in a rush. Of course there should not be undue haste. But that should not become an excuse for continuing the constitutional constipation that has prevented reform of the House of Lords.
There will be cheers and tears today as our collected nations digest the reality that we are still a united kingdom. But we are not the same kingdom we were yesterday. Westminster is weakened and that can only be for the better.
David Cameron will go down in history as the man who kept together a three century’s old union. In the short term, he will be castigated by the red tops and right-wing press for even considering a referendum. But history will treat him kindly. Because David Cameron set in motion this madcap adventure, politics in England will never be the same again.
So thank you Scotland. I know that many of you didn’t get the result you wanted. But you have changed the balance of power in the UK for ever. There’s no stopping devolution to Scotland now. Let’s also make devolution to England and Wales a reality.